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Microbiology Logo Microbiology & Immunology
Te Tari Moromoroiti me te Ārai Mate


Greenhouse gas emissions from NZ soils: The role of microorganisms

sheepAgricultural soils emit an estimated 96% of the nitrous oxide (N2O) in NZ and account for roughly 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is significant considering that N2O is a greenhouse gas ~310-times stronger than CO2. Our research has shown that these emissions are linked to microbial communities and explores methods to reduce these emissions. Our research now focuses on identifying factors limiting the reduction of N2O at both the organisms and ecosystem level.  The work combines soil biology, molecular techniques, microbial ecology and next generation sequencing and 'omic' approaches in order to provide a wholistic approach to this globally relevant problem. This work is in collaboration with both New Zealand and international partners:

NZ: Dr Cecile de Klein (AgResearch), Dr Surinder Saggar (Landcare Research), Prof Tim Clough (Lincoln University), Steve Wakelin (AgResearch), Dr Chris Brown (University of Otago)
International:  UMB Nitrogen Group (Prof Lars Bakken, Prof Åsa Frostegård-Norwegian University of Life Science), Dr Gary Lanigan (Teagasc – the Agriculture and Food Development Authority-Ireland), Dr Karl Richards (Teagasc), Prof Keishi Senoo (University of Tokyo), Dr Claudia Goyer (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)


Microbial communities in agricultural soils

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What constitutes a viable, sustainable and fertile soil? Answering these questions will impact industries, the NZ economy and our ability to feed an increasing world population. The answers will likely depend on the microbes that inhabit soil and control the major biogeochemical cycles that sustain life. In collaboration with Mainland Minerals this project aims to: 1) determine the role microbes play in mediating soil fertility and 2) the impact of Fine Particle Fertiliser on soil biology and the general environment.


Microbial metabolism in the southern oceans 


In progress

This work is in collaboration with:

Dr Federico Baltar (Otago-Marine Science)


Microbial role in nutrient cycling and ecosystem services within Lake Ellesmere, an Intermittent Closed Open Lake Lagoon (ICOLL) within a farming intensive catchment 

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As human population increases, so does the need for food and other agricultural products, resulting in rapid agricultural intensification. This intensification leads to detrimental environmental 'side effects' including a steady increase in pollutants such as nutrients, sediments, animal wastes, pesticides and salts that are expected to persist, and most likely increase, in the future . Pollutants originate in soils, but through runoff or seepage to groundwater, they eventually reach aquatic ecosystems ranging from freshwater to salt water. N wastes are of particular concern as they lead to eutrophication of aquatic environments and can increase greenhouse gas emissions. This project aims to understand how microbes respond to these changes within coastal lakes and lagoons, focusing on lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora. The work combines traditional ecology with microbial ecology and biogeochemical approaches in order to understand how changes in the lake affect ecosystem services like nutrient removal and greenhouse gas mitigation. This work is in collaboration with:

Dr Marc Schallenberg (Otago-Zoology), Dr Federico Baltar (Otago-Marine Science), Dr Candida Savage (Otago-Marine Science), Prof Tim Clough (Lincoln University)



From microbes to ecosystems: the effects of geological CO2 storage 

Carbon dioxide (CO2) part per million by volume (ppmv) concentrations have increased from 295 in the year 1000 to their current level of ~393. At this rate of increase the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts CO2 levels could reach upwards of 570 ppmv by the year 2100 furthering global warming, and increasing mean global temperatures around 1.9°C. In order to reverse this trend, approximately 1 teraton of COwould have to be removed and/or prevented from entering the atmosphere. Researchers are exploring the strategy of geologic carbon sequestration, also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a method of storing excess CO2, but the impacts of In this process, gaseous or supercritical CO2 is injected deep underground (>1 km) into porous sedimentary formations in natural sites such as deep geological cavities, saline aquifers, spent oil or gas fields, coal mines or in the ocean floor. However, over time, the CO2 could escape from these holding sites leading to gas reaching surface soils or the atmosphere. Thus, we are conducting research into developing monitoring techniques for the detection of CO2 leaks from geologic formations as well as the effects that those leaks could have on near surface and surface environments. This project is in collaboration with theZero Emission Research and Technology (ZERT) group and Dr Bill Holben from the University of Montana, USA.  Our focus is on the effects of CO2 escape on surface microbial communities by using a simulated underground CO2 leak site (a shallow subsurface controlled release facility) in Bozeman Montana (USA). This project applies molecular techniques and high throughput sequencing (pyrosequencing) to compare temporal and spatial shifts in microbial populations and metabolic activities under both natural and CO2 exposed conditions.